Mofaz: U.S. should take lead on Iran strike, as last resort

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The United States and the West should take the lead in launching a military strike against Iran, and only as a matter of last resort, said Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s deputy prime minister.

"The use of military power should be the last option, and I believe that this option should be led by the U.S. and the Western countries," Mofaz said Tuesday at the outset of a visit to Washington.

"The principal questions we should use before using force — we should ask ourselves how much will we delay the Iranian program, how many months, how many years, and what will happen the day after in the region, I mean the Middle East," he said.

Mofaz, whose joining of his Kadima party to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government last month created a wall-to-wall national unity government, also said that he believed the Iranians were buying time in talks on its suspected nuclear weapons program with major powers. But his caution and his explicit deferral to the United States as the lead military actor underscore the significance of his joining the government: Until now, Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, have hinted that Israel could strike first and that the time may come as soon as the fall.

Mofaz, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also repeated his call for an interim agreement with the Palestinians on borders and security arrangements as a means of accelerating peace talks, saying that the terms of such an agreement were close, and would spur the sides to solve the more contentious issues, Jerusalem and refugees among them.

He said the need for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was urgent, and that failing to resolve it would soon pose a greater danger to Israel than Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Mofaz, a former military chief of staff and defense minister, also said Israel and Turkey should resolve differences sparked by Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2009. He predicted a meeting of Turkish and Israeli leaders within months.

"I believe that it is necessary for the strategic goals of Israel and for the strategic goals of Turkey," he said.

That posture also suggested a difference with Netanyahu, who until now has blamed the break with Turkey on the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has rejected efforts to end the impasse.

Mofaz has meetings this week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top Obama administration officials.

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